February 13, 2018
Highbridge Children's Centre saved from axe in council shake-up

Plans to close two thirds of Somerset's children's centres have been unanimously agreed by county councillors this week - but Highbridge's centre has been saved from the cuts.

The centre in Highbridge's Coronation Road is one of eight that will retain its Sure Start Children’s Centre designation and become a 'family centre'.

Conservative Somerset County Council Cabinet members met at County Hall in Taunton on Monday to agree the plans, which form part of a wider shake-up of family services.

24 Sure Start centres will be replaced with eight 'family centres', which will co-ordinate work in the surrounding areas.

About 40 protesters, including health workers, gathered outside ahead of Monday's meeting to protest against the plans, with the Unite union saying the changes risk "wrecking a great service".

A Somerset County Council spokesperson told "Highbridge will be one of the eight buildings which will retain their Sure Start Children’s Centre designation for the purposes of Department for Education registration. The other 16 buildings will have their Children’s Centre designation removed, but still offer early childhood services including education and nursery places."

Burnham and Highbridge's former Lib Dem MP, Tessa Munt, told "It's good to see Highbridge Children's Centre is safe for the moment, but it is a deep concern to see other centres losing their Children’s Centre designation. By merging the council services into fewer buildings, the overall provision to is being weakened and diluted."

She added: "Given that the County Council's Cabinet has decided to save Highbridge Children's Centre based on local need, surely the same criteria must now apply to Highbridge Library too and it will be retained because of local need?"

This week's decision by the County Council follows a period of public consultation in the autumn. It brings together the Council’s 'getset' service – which includes Children’s Centre services - and the support offered by Health Visitors and School Nurses, with more emphasis on delivering support in community venues and people’s homes.

Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Councillor Frances Nicholson, said: "These plans are all about making it easier for people to get the support they need so we can prevent small problems becoming big ones, and that is something we all want."

"This support is important and valued and I thank everyone who took part in the consultation. The feedback has helped our thinking and highlighted areas where more work is needed, but we firmly believe that these proposals are still the best way forward for families and children across the county."

"The changing status of buildings does not mean a reduction in support and the hundreds of activities that are there now will carry on. I understand that some people are anxious, but this is about doing things better, and the next steps will be taken carefully and at the right pace."

Councillors also agreed to bring the employment of the county's health visitors and school nurses in-house from April 2019. In a letter to the authority last month, health visitors expressed "heartfelt concerns" about the changes which would bring them under the umbrella of the new council-run service.

Unite, which represents the majority of the 200 affected staff, said it believes a "hidden agenda of cost-cutting" was behind the changes.

The following buildings will be de-designated as Sure Start Children’s Centres: Victoria Park, Bridgwater; Hamp, Bridgwater; Brock House, Norton Fitzwarren; The Hollies, Taunton; Wellington; Bishop's Lydeard; Alcombe, Minehead; Little Vikings, Watchet; Birchfield, Yeovil; Oaklands, Yeovil; Chard Little Marsh, Ilchester; Balsam Centre, Wincanton; The Bridge Centre, Frome; The Link Centre, Coleford; and The House, Shepton Mallet.

Burnham-On-Sea is not included in the changes as it is not a Sure Start centre.


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